The first signs of ringworm in horses tends to be a certain scruffiness in the coat. Ringworm can occur anywhere on the body, but it tends to be found most often on the legs and along the neck. When you take a closer look at these scruffy patches of coat, you’ll notice that the skin is flaking off. There may be dandruff clinging to the coat around the area.
The reason why this fungal infection is called “ringworm” isn’t because the infection is actually caused by a worm. It is due to the shape of the fungus as it begins to grow. You will notice a distinctive ring form on the coat of the horse. There may also be a red ring that appears on the skin.
Ringworm can be very itchy and bothersome to humans, but it does not affect horses in the same way. The skin won’t be irritated or hot underneath the coat. Most horses won’t mind that you’re coming into contact with the affected area. There will be no scabs or scrapes. Most ringworm infections are also local, so it will likely be the only patch like it on the horse. Except for this one spot, the horse will seem healthy.
Before you begin your inspection of the area, it is important that you put on your personal protective equipment. Ringworm can spread by contact, so if you touch the infected area during your inspection, the fungus can spread to your skin.
Once you’ve finished your inspection and you’re confident that ringworm is the culprit for what you are seeing, you’ll want to take the following steps to treat this condition. It may not be bothersome to the horse, but it will continue to grow until something is done to kill off the fungus.
#1. Call Your Veterinarian First
Although ringworm is hardly an emergency situation for a horse, it is important that your veterinarian know about this skin infection. The lesions are generally caused by something that is in the local pasture that the horse came into contact with over the course of their regular activities, but ringworm can be evidence that there is a reduction of the horse’s immune system response as well.
If you call your veterinarian sooner rather than later, providing them with updates of your treatment program, you’ll be able to move quickly if there is a serious situation which needs to be addressed with the health of the horse.
#2. Clip Away the Hair
In order for the treatment of ringworm to be effective, you must be able to come into contact with the skin of the horse. Any treatment that stays on top of the coat will be ineffective at best. This means you’ll need to clip away the hair around the entire region that is affected.
Another reason why it is important to take this step is that the fungus relies on keratin, the protein which is a primary component of the coat and outer skin cells, as a food source. If you remove as much of the food source as possible before you start the rest of your treatment program, it will become easier to eliminate this skin infection.
Extend the clipped region to at least one-half inch beyond the ring barrier that you see in the coat to make sure you’re treating the entire region that is affected. It is often easier to use electric clippers. Just remember to wear gloves and long sleeves to prevent the fungus from spreading to you.
#3. Wash the Affected Area
When you bathe the lesion that is caused by ringworm, you’re encouraging the premature death of the fungus that is causing it. You only need to spot-bathe the affected area. You do not need to give your horse a full bath.
Take a sponge and get the shaved area wet with warm water. Once it is wet, you’ll want to apply an antiseptic that has been approved for antifungal purposes. One of the most common products used in this scenario would be a Betadine scrub.
For tougher infections that don’t respond to Betadine, your veterinarian might recommend using Novalsan instead.
Lather up the scrub in the affected region. Allow it to stand for 10-15 minutes. Keep the horse calm during this time by relieving boredom. Groom, pet, or play based on what you know your horse likes to do.
After the antiseptic has been in place for the required time, you’ll want to rinse the spots out thoroughly, only using warm water. Then, following the rinse, you’ll want to create a slightly acidic environment in the affected area so the fungus cannot continue to thrive. You can do this by creating a vinegar/water mixture that is two tablespoons white vinegar to every 1 quart of water. You can spray the mixture on or apply it with a clean sponge.
Unless it is winter, you can towel-dry the area and then let it air dry. You may need to blow dry the areas in winter to make sure the horse remains comfortable. Immediately launder any towels that you use.
#4. Apply an Antifungal Dressing to the Affected Area
When a ringworm infection does happen, the horse becomes more susceptible to additional infections. This is especially true in the treatment area itself, where there is no longer a coat to protect the skin of the horse. For this reason, you’ll want to apply an antifungal dressing to the affected area. It will help to terminate the remaining fungi that are present on the skin while reducing the risk of a future infection.
The easiest way to apply the dressing is to first put down a thin layer of Betadine or an antifungal ointment or spray. Put it directly on the ringed area, including the skin that is within the ring, as well as the half-inch area outside of it. You do not want to cover up the lesions at this time. Simply apply the ointment.
In most circumstances, applying the antifungal ointment after cleaning out the area is only necessary once per day for the first week. If the infected site is quite large, you may wish to apply an antifungal ointment twice per day for the first week instead. After 7 days, you can reduce the ointment application to about 2-3 times per week until the lesions begin shrinking and new hair growth becomes visible.
After 14 days, you can then spot-check the affected areas to make sure the infection has cleared. Apply more ointment at any time you believe the lesions may be growing instead of shrinking.
#5. Keep the Lesions Clean and Dry
Many owners want to cover up the treated areas when ringworm is present on the horse. The thinking is that by applying a bandage, the antiseptic and antifungal applications will be able to work for a longer period of time, thus encouraging the healing process.
Here’s the problem: fungus thrives when an environment is damp and dark. This is why horses tend to get ringworm in the winter months or after prolonged exposure to precipitation. When the coat of the horse is wet and dirty, the fungus is going to find a home.
That means you need to keep the treated area clean and dry. The ultraviolet light from the sun will also help to kill the fungus.
Not every horse is going to want to stay clean and dry as you are treating the affected area. This means you’ll need to groom your horse every time they get wet or dirty to make sure the ringworm doesn’t have an opportunity to spread. You’ll also want to make sure the paddock is dry, the stall is dry, and the horse isn’t blanketed if at all possible.
If you do need to use a blanket, make sure it is never shared with other horses and is regularly laundered.
You must make sure to disinfect your premises during the treatment process as well.
You can catch ringworm. Any other livestock on your property can catch it. So can any of your house pets.
Make sure any grooming debris, clipped hair, and other remnants from the treated area are discarded into a plastic garbage bag. Use a disinfectant that is approved to kill fungus on all of your grooming equipment. Do not dilute the disinfectant and follow all manufacturer’s instructions for you.
After taking care of your horse, take care of yourself. Take a shower or bath using an antiseptic soap. Check yourself and your family for lesions every day for the next three weeks.
If there is no improvement in the horse within the next 14 days, you’ll want to contact your veterinarian once again for an evaluation.
In most cases, a home treatment plan like this one will help you be able to treat ringworm in horses very effectively. Remember to maintain good hygiene practices throughout the treatment period and you’ll be able to prevent ringworm from spreading to others.